By Kathy M. Newbern and J.S. Fletcher ©2014
(Part 6 in a Series)
The first arts council in the United States started in Winston-Salem, and our visit reassured us that the arts are indeed alive and well here.
There’s no better place to see evidence of that than at the Piedmont Craftsmen Gallery at 601 N. Trade Street. Piedmont Craftsmen got its start in 1963 when, according to its website, “a group of friends and acquaintances gathered around a kitchen table to discuss their love of crafts. From that first conversation came Piedmont Craftsmen – a guild of crafts artists and crafts collectors whose devotion to the handmade object and ties to the heritage of craft work in the region have spanned several generations.”
In the current-day shop of treasures, we spoke with gallery manager Chris Asuncion whose enthusiasm for the creativity around him is quickly evident. He proudly notes that the Piedmont Craftsmen’s Fair celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013. Today, the Guild represents about 400 of the country’s finest artisans. Each year, the crafts fair showcases the work of about 120 of them. On display are jewelry pieces, vases and sculpture, handmade furniture and more.
The guild also offers educational outreach to public schools and collaborates with local and regional organizations to create exhibitions and community programs.
While the birth of Piedmont Craftsmen can be seen as part of the larger mid-century American Craft movement, it is also particular to Winston-Salem’s place in the North Carolina Piedmont region. The tradition of making beautiful, functional, well-crafted objects runs deep, encompassing the native cultures’ Catawba clay pots, the more European pottery traditions of the Seagrove community, and the fine furniture, textiles and metal work of Moravian settlers.
Among what you’ll see at the gallery and the annual fair are traditional crafts including clay, wood, glass, fibers/textiles, metals/jewelry, mixed media, leather, print and photography.
Standout pieces abound. Our eyes were quickly drawn to the beautifully crafted, original pieces like the wood tables by Brian Bortz from Durham, as well as the glass works by Veronica and David Bennett (exhibiting members since 2006) and the collectible goblets by Eddie Smith.
Most artists/craftsmen are from the Southeast, though all go through an open-juried process nationally. Asuncion points out that the pieces are rotated as much as possible, and they are constantly adding new ones. “We have a lot of new fiber work, a lot of new wearables, a changing line of pottery, new woodwork here, jewelry over there. There’s a lot of artists that live nearby, the mountains, Burnsville, Weaverville,” so new work is always coming in all the time to replace the pieces that sell. “Look around,” he says. “This is just amazing stuff.” There are also classes taught in the space, so it’s evident there is a commitment to art and creation.
Asuncion stands as an example of that commitment. He started as a volunteer 20-some years ago, then worked part-time. He explains, “I actually started when one of my friends volunteered at the annual Craft Fair. . . Ever since then, I’ve been here. I lived away from here for three years. Someone called and told me the manager’s job was open; I applied for it and got it . . . so I’m back. Something about this place always drives people back. We get a lot of people from out of town who’ve been here before or grew up here who remember us, and they still come back.”
Whether you’ve been to the Piedmont Craftsmen Gallery before or not, when you’re in Winston-Salem and are looking for that totally special gift for the totally special person (like yourself) stop by. Chances are once you do, you’ll be coming back again as well.
The big event each year is the Crafts Fair, celebrating its 51st year. The two-day event is scheduled for November 22 – 23. Put it on your calendar. It’s a beautiful time to visit Winston-Salem.
For more info on accommodations, dining and attractions in the area, go to www.VisitWinstonSalem.com
If you enjoyed this story, you’ll find more of our stories by clicking on the links, and please subscribe to our columns – it’s free and will notify you our new articles:
• Other stories by Newbern and Fletcher
• Other Stories by Kathy M. Newbern
• Stories by J.S. Fletcher, International Travel Examiner
Luxury Travel Examiner Kathy M. Newbern and spouse, J.S. Fletcher, report on luxury destinations, spas and cruising around the globe. They are award-winning members of the Society of American Travel Writers and created YourSpaReport.com and YourNovel.com, their personalized romance novel business.